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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
Tory party 'must fight for survival'
Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo: "Defining moment for Conservatives"
The Conservative party has a fight on its hands if it is to remain a serious force in UK politics, shadow environment secretary Tim Yeo has warned.

He contrasted the plight of the Tories now with the crisis they faced in 1945 when they suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of Clement Attlee's Labour Party.

"I think we are standing at a defining moment in the Conservative Party's history when it is not just about the leadership election but the very survival of the party as a major political force," he told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme.

Mr Yeo was one of 13 leading backers of Michael Portillo to call in a letter to the Daily Telegraph on Friday for a new think tank to keep the shadow chancellor's ideas for reforming the party alive.

Mr Portillo lost out in the penultimate round of the Conservative leadership contest to remaining contenders Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke.

Truce

The 13 MPs who signed the letter also included shadow environment secretary Archie Norman and former Portillo campaign manager Francis Maude.

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith is meeting people in Devon
They argued that his candidacy was as much about his agenda for radical change as the candidate himself.

"Unless people, especially younger people, see us as a party that has something serious to say and to do about the lives that they live today, rather than the lives we think they ought to live, they will not vote for us," the letter said.

Both Mr Clarke and Mr Duncan Smith are currently in a middle of a two week-truce while they both take a break from campaigning.

Mr Duncan Smith is set to meet farmers and Tory activists at an agricultural show in the West Country on Friday.

Show visit

The shadow defence secretary will meet representatives of the Country Landowners Association and the National Farmers Union, before talking with local Tories at the Devon show.

But the right-winger will not be holding interviews because of the truce.

Mr Clarke is on a birdwatching holiday in Australia.

Earlier, Mr Duncan Smith's leadership bid received a boost with more members of the Conservative shadow cabinet backing him - in particular because of his eurosceptic views.

Three former supporters of Michael Portillo, who was knocked out of the contest in the last round, wrote to The Times praising Mr Duncan Smith's commitment to protecting the UK from the "steady erosion" of the EU.

Shadow health secretary Liam Fox, shadow trade secretary David Heathcoat-Amory and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Oliver Letwin have all declared their support for Mr Duncan Smith.

'Central importance'

They said it was the issue of the UK's relationship with the EU that was of "central importance".

Ken Clarke
Mr Clarke is currently on holiday during the truce
"It goes wider than whether or not to join the euro. We believe it vital to stop the steady erosion of our powers of self government," they wrote.

Last week 10 former Portillo supporters declared for pro-European Mr Clarke.

They included shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Andrew Mackay, shadow attorney general Edward Garnier and former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell.

Their backing came after Mr Clarke handed a concession to Tory eurosceptics by announcing he would allow Conservatives to oppose the Nice Treaty on the European Union.

Regional hustings

After the truce, Mr Clarke and Mr Duncan Smith are set to take part in a series of hustings meetings before party members around the country.

The two men will have the opportunity to woo the Tory rank-and-file at eight separate meetings in England in the weeks leading up to the postal ballot of 300,000 party members.

The results are expected on 12 September, ahead of the political conference season.


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See also:

09 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Portillo backer considers think tank
27 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Campaign to 'write in' Portillo
01 Aug 01 | UK Politics
Clarke wins over Portillo backers
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